But Hitler was not a revolutionary Leftist. He fought many elections and finally came to power via basically democratic means.
It is true that both Hitler and Mussolini received financial and other support from big businessmen and other “establishment” figures but this is simply a reflection of how radicalized Germany and Italy were at that time. Hitler and Mussolini were correctly perceived as a less hostile alternative (a sort of vaccine) to the Communists.
And what was that about election campaigns? Yes, Hitler did start out as a half-hearted revolutionary (the Munich Putsch) but after his resultant incarceration was able enough and flexible enough to turn to basically democratic methods of gaining power. He was thenceforth the major force in his party insisting on legality for its actions and did eventually gain power via the ballot box rather than by way of violent revolution. It is true that the last election (as distinct from referenda) he faced (on May 3rd, 1933) gave him a plurality (44% of the popular vote) rather than a majority but that is normal in any electoral contest where there are more than two candidates. Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher never gained a majority of the popular vote either. After the May 1933 elections, Hitler was joined in a coalition government by Hugenburg’s Nationalist party (who had won 8% of the vote) to give a better majority (52%) than many modern democratic governments enjoy. On March 24th, 1933 the Reichstag passed an “Enabling Act” giving full power to Hitler for four years (later extended by referendum). The Centre Party voted with the Nazi-led coalition government. Thus Hitler’s accession to absolute power was quite democratically achieved. Even Hitler’s subsequent banning of the Communist party and his control of the media at election time have precedents in democratic politics.
Even the torturous backroom negotiations that led to Hitler’s initial appointment as Kanzler (Chancellor, Prime Minister) by President Hindenburg on January 30th, 1933 hardly delegitimize that appointment or make it less democratic. Shirer (1964) and others describe this appointment as being the outcome of a “shabby political deal” but that would seem disingenuous. The fact is that Hitler was the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag and torturous backroom negotiations about alliances and deals generally are surely well-known to most practitioners of democratic politics. One might in fact say that success at such backroom negotiations is almost a prerequisite for power in a democratic system — particularly, perhaps, under the normal European electoral system of proportional representation. It might in fact not be too cynical to venture the comment that “shabby political deals” have been rife in democracy at least since the time of Thucydides. Some practitioners of them might even claim that they are what allows democracy to work at all.
The fact that Hitler appealed to the German voter as basically a rather extreme social democrat is also shown by the fact that the German Social Democrats (orthodox democratic Leftists who controlled the unions as well as a large Reichstag deputation) at all times refused appeals from the German Communist party for co-operation against the Nazis. They evidently felt more affinity with Hitler than with the Communists. Hitler’s eventual setting up of a one-party State and his adoption of a “four year plan”, however, showed who had most affinity with the Communists. Hitler was more extreme than the Social Democrats foresaw.
The only heartfelt belief that Hitler himself ever had would appear to have been his antisemitism but his primary public appeal was nonetheless always directed to “the masses” and their interests and his methods were only less Bolshevik than those of the Bolsheviks themselves.
It is true that Hitler proceeded to entrench himself in power in all sorts of ways once he came to rule but reluctance to relinquish power once it is gained is not uncharacteristic of the far Left in a democracy. In the early ’70′s, for instance, Australia had a government of a very Leftist character (the Whitlam government) that tried to continue governing against all constitutional precedent when refused money by Parliament. Because Australia is a monarchy with important powers vested in the vice-regal office, however, the government could be and was dismissed and a constitutional crisis thus avoided. It may also be noted that the Whitlam government presided over a considerable upsurge of Australian nationalism. It was literally a national socialist government. Unlike Hitler, however, it was very anti-militaristic (particularly in the light of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam fiasco) and did not persecute its political opponents. Australia has, after all, inherited from its largely British forebears very strong traditions of civil liberty.
Among other far-Left democratic governments that have been known to cling to power with dubious public support the government of Malta by Mintoff and Mifsud-Bonnici springs to mind. On a broader scale, the use of gerrymanders by democratic governments of all sorts also tends to entrench power. Democratically-elected governments are not always great respecters of democracy. The post-war Liberal Democratic (conservative) government of Japan never had a majority of the popular vote and ruled for over 30 years only by virtue of a gerrymander. Yet it has generally been regarded as democratic. None of this is said with any intention of excusing Hitler or drawing exact parallels with him. The aim is rather to show roughly in what sort of company he belongs as far as his attitude to democracy is concerned. In other words, like many democratic politicians he was a reluctant democrat (surely more reluctant than most) but his coming to power by democratic means still cannot be ignored. It meant that he had to be fairly popular and this affected the sort of person he could be and the policies he could advocate. As sincerity in a politician is hard to feign successfully, for maximum effectiveness (and Hitler was a very effective leader) he more or less had to be the sort of person who had a genuine feeling for his own people and who thus would not want to make war on large sections of them (unlike Stalin, Pol Pot and Li Peng of Tien Anmen Square fame). This meant that the great hostility which seems to be characteristic of the extreme Leftist had to have another outlet. Hitler was simply being an ordinary European of his times in finding the outlet he did: The Jews.
When in power Hitler also implemented a quite socialist programme. Like F.D. Roosevelt, he provided employment by a much expanded programme of public works (including roadworks) and his Kraft durch Freude (“power through joy”) movement was notable for such benefits as providing workers with subsidized holidays at a standard that only the rich could formerly afford. And while Hitler did not nationalize all industry, there was extensive compulsory reorganization of it and tight party control over it. It might be noted that even in the post-war Communist bloc there was never total nationalization of industry. In fact, in Poland, most agriculture always remained in private hands.
e details of how socialist the German economy was under the Nazis, see Reisman. Excerpt:
“What Mises identified was that private ownership of the means of production existed in name only under the Nazis and that the actual substance of ownership of the means of production resided in the German government. For it was the German government and not the nominal private owners that exercised all of the substantive powers of ownership: it, not the nominal private owners, decided what was to be produced, in what quantity, by what methods, and to whom it was to be distributed, as well as what prices would be charged and what wages would be paid, and what dividends or other income the nominal private owners would be permitted to receive. The position of the alleged private owners, Mises showed, was reduced essentially to that of government pensioners.
And what about the conservatives of Hitler’s day? Both in Germany and Britain he despised them and they despised him. Far from being an ally of Hitler or in any way sympathetic to him, Hitler’s most unrelenting foe was the arch-Conservative British politician, Winston Churchill and it was a British Conservative Prime Minister (Neville Chamberlain) who eventually declared war on Hitler’s Germany. Hitler found a willing ally in the Communist Stalin as long as he wanted it but at no point could he wring even neutrality out of Churchill. Not that Churchill was a saint. In 1939 Churchill exulted over the Finns “tearing the guts out of the Red Army” but, despite that, he later allied himself with Stalin. Like Mussolini, he was something of a pragmatist and saw Hitler as the biggest threat. Churchill therefore, despite his opposition to all socialist dictators, retreated eventually to the old wisdom that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. His basic loathing for both Hitler’s and Stalin’s forms of socialism is, however very much a matter of record.
Parenthetically, it should perhaps be noted that the lessons of history are seldom simple. The fact that the British Prime Minister who actually declared war on Hitler was a (mildly) anti-Semitic English jingoist — Neville Chamberlain — is something of an irony. Churchill was soon called upon to replace Chamberlain at least in part because Churchill’s opposition to Hitler was seen as more heartfelt and consistent.
In keeping with the fundamental opposition between Churchill’s English conservatism (Rightism) and any form of socialism, it might also be noted that German monarchists were among Hitler’s victims on “the night of the long knives”.
Nor is Hitler’s going to war uncharacteristic of a social democrat (democratic Leftist). Who got the U.S.A. involved in Vietnam? J.F. Kennedy and L.B. Johnson. And who got the troops out? Richard Nixon. I am not, of course, comparing the Vietnam involvement with Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. Kennedy and Johnson were, after all, only mildly Leftist whereas Hitler was extremely Leftist. All I am pointing out is that there is nothing in social democratic politics that automatically precludes military adventurism.